Category Archives: MANITOBA MOOSE


The Manitoba Moose have lost their top offensive weapon.

The parent Vancouver Canucks recalled high-scoring Russian winger Sergei Shirokov on Sunday morning. There’s a chance the 23-year-old could play tonight in Vancouver when the Canucks host…the Edmonton Oilers.

Shirokov is Manitoba’s leading scorer after recording four goals and six assists in 10 games after being assigned to the Moose earlier this month.


courtesy of the Sun Media



by Ron Spence

Their second night in Manitoba, ‘nucks prospects are checking out apartments or settling into their hotel rooms.


They can stew on their situation, or remember that they were two games away from hoisting the Calder Cup – and having their name on a Championship banner.


And, if The Patriot-News can have flashy headlines, so can The Winnipeg Free Press and The Winnipeg Sun – next May.


But better still, they can wear a Calder ring, to accompany their Stanley Cup ring, which they will receive after the 2010-11 season.


“They’ll be disappointed and upset,” Scott Arniel said, “but they also know they’re coming to a good place that they are familiar with…It’s not like they’re going to purgatory or some place they’re not treated as well.”


by Ron Spence

So, who’s this kid – this Mario Bliznak?

I’d seen his name on the yearly prospects lists – since 2005 – but didn’t know anything about him

Bliznak wasn’t sent down to Manitoba last week – with the first batch of demotees – and coach V was giving him lots of ice time.

So, he figures into the Canucks’ future.


“I think back to the three camps I’d seen him at,” said Scott Arniel, “and he was just a body out there moving around. As a draft pick, I wondered what they saw in this guy.”

Bliznak, was a Slovakian-born seventh-round pick in 2005.

He attended training camp with the Moose in the fall of 2007 but returned for his final Western Hockey League season – as a 20-year-old.

His junior career with the Vancouver Giants isn’t marked with any fantastic stats, but coach Don Hay believed in him.

Bliznak received some great coaching from Hay and the experience of playing in the WHL final twice – and winning the Memorial Cup once – helped him to deal with the professional game.

“The WHL is different, but it was a long ride too — a couple of months,” said Bliznak. “Here every game is tough but hopefully [the previous experience] is going to help me.”

“Bliznak could become a serviceable third or fourth liner with a few more years of progress,” wrote Hockey’s Future. “His final major junior season showed that he does possess some offensive talent, although his career-high numbers were put up in his overage season.”

Moose GM Craig Heisinger, like Arniel, hadn’t seen a lot in the kid: “We always heard that his junior coach liked him a lot but nobody ever said what exactly they liked.”

“Probably he was on the bubble of whether he was going to be here or be in Victoria (of the ECHL),” said Arniel, “but right from the beginning of the year [2008-09] he played extremely well and did a lot of good things to earn a spot every night.”

It also helped that other Moose prospects – including Greg Rallo who’d been signed to be the team’s fourth-line centre – got hurt during training camp, and the Slovakian seized the opportunity.

“He’s a way smarter player than I gave him credit for,” Heisinger said. “He’s been the most pleasant surprise to date, no question.”

“I can understand now why (Vancouver Giants’ coach) Don Hay gave up two spots for him, an import and an overage,” Arniel said. “Usually they don’t do that in junior. He’s a very reliable player you can throw out in any situation, against any line.”

“The Aeros were making a last-ditch effort to tie Tuesday’s game,” wrote Tim Campbell. “One shift produced a few chances. Then Arniel tapped Bliznak to take the next faceoff.

“That’s good for confidence,” Bliznak said. “Obviously he’s trusting me. He put me on that faceoff six against five so that makes me more confident.”

The coach said the decision wasn’t tough.

“Pace-wise, he’s caught on here and got up to speed at the American League level,” Arniel said.

Bliznak had an good start to the 2008-09 campaign, but saw his game drop off during the stretch drive – and he spent time in the press box.

But, Bliznak was improving – during the course of the season – a fact not lost on the coaching staff or his teammates.

“He grew a lot and he developed over the year,” said Mike Keane. “It was a great year in a lot of different aspects. He did well at times, he sat out at times, he had to learn the game at times. As a first-year player, I don’t think you could get a better experience. You realize when you do well it’s great, but when things are going bad you have to work harder and maybe not press as much.”

Bliznak spent the start of round one – of the playoffs – in the press box, but then replaced enforcer Tommy Maxwell in Game 2, and saw his ice time further increased after an injury to Alexandre Bolduc two games after that.

Bliznak was promoted to the checking line with captain Mike Keane and Guillaume Desbiens and that unit completely neutralized the Marlies top line of Tim Stapleton, Jiri Tlusty and Bates Battaglia.

“Playing on the checking line was nothing new for me, but you just have to be good on every shift.”

blcourtesy of

“He has poise in pressure situations,” Arniel said, “for a young guy. He does a good job of holding onto pucks and making his stick available at all times, either for outlets or for defending in coverage. He’s very responsible defensively. It doesn’t matter if he plays a small amount of minutes or large minutes, he doesn’t change his game too much. He’s at a very consistent level.”

“He’s been a guy who has been a surprise all season long for us,” Scott Arniel summarized.

And obviously a pleasant surprise during the ‘nucks pre-season.


This blog has used quotes from both the Winnipeg Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press.


by Ron Spence

You remember Matt McCue.

He’s the Duck who demolished both Alexandre Bolduc and Nathan McIver in that September 17, 2009 pre-season game in Anaheim.

McCue, 21, had 15 goals, 63 points and 625 penalty minutes in five-plus seasons in the Western Hockey League.

Now, he’s joining the Moose and will be a teammate of both Bolduc and McIver.


courtesy of

“He can really handle himself. He’s 6-foot-5 and has big, long arms,” commented coach Arniel.


by Ron Spence

The 2008-09 campaign was the most successful in Manitoba’s eight year AHL history.

The Moose went 50-23 during the regular season – first place in the AHL – and lost to the Calder Cup champions, the Hershey Bears.

Their roster was a combination of: Canucks and Stars prospects, plus players under contract to the Moose.

This season, Dallas has their own franchise – the Texas Stars – and Anaheim will be placing their prospects throughout the AHL.

Last season, Anaheim’s players were playing for the Iowa Chops – a franchise that has now been suspended by the league.

Dallas’ Maxime Fortunus and Mark Fistric were critical to Manitoba’s Kelly Cup run.



This season, the Moose will have  a few good Anaheim prospects.

Brian Salcido is starting his 4th pro season and is not considered an AHL veteran (260 regular-season games played), and thus won’t take up one of the five critical veteran spots.

In three pro seasons, Salcido has scored 28 goals, 123 points and 246 penalty minutes in 233 AHL games – with the Chops and before that, the Portland Pirates.

Last season, the 5th round pick – 141st overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft – had 10 goals, 43 points and 108 penalty minutes in 76 games, and one assist in two games for the Ducks.

“He’s a top-end American League defenceman,” said Scott Arniel. “He’s a guy that you can use on your power play and he can log a lot of minutes. He’s a big-bodied guy that moves pretty well and plays physical…He’s got a real good shot from the top. Last year we were looking for that left-handed defenceman for our power play and we could never really find it.”

“When we were in Anaheim with the Canucks, he had played the night before and I talked to Randy [Carlyle, Ducks coach] about him and he thought the kid played very, very well for them,” Arniel said. “They have depth at the defensive position.”

Anaheim also assigned prospect Matt McCue to the Moose today.

“He can really handle himself,” said Scott Arniel, noting McCue got into scraps with Alexandre Bolduc and Nathan McIver in a recent pre-season game between the Ducks and Vancouver Canucks. “He’s 6-foot-5 and has big, long arms. We’ll get a feel for him this week.”

There will be additional players arriving in Winnipeg as the Ducks’ roster is further trimmed.




by Ron Spence

There have been a few ‘nucks and Moose issues that have concerned me.

First of all, Manitoba’s veteran situation – each AHL team is allowed a maximum of 5 veteran players to play in one game.

A veteran – according to the AHL constitution – is a player who has played 260 games in total in the NHL, AHL and European Premier Leagues (Basically, anyone with 3 1/2 years in the AHL and the NHL combined.).

Manitoba already has four veterans – listed on their roster below – and with the addition of Brad Lukowich, that would make five (They can have 7 or 8 if they want, but only 5 can play in one game.).


SEPTEMBER 18, 2009


My second concern has been the ‘nucks’ salary cap.

Currently, Vancouver is -$2,760,000.


Sending Lukowich and Lawrence Nycholat to Manitoba would remove a cap hit of $2,067,000 – which is a start.

lukodumpcourtesy of

The key thing – if Lukowich is sent down – he can’t be brought up again. He has to be buried like the Bruins did with Peter Schaefer in Providence. Mike Gillis tried to bring up Matt Pettinger – last season – and Tampa Bay grabbed him and Vancouver had to eat half of his cap – $468,000.


Vancouver can’t afford a similar cap hit this year.

And Mike Gillis isn’t afraid of burying salaries in the minors. He was paying Jason Krog $700,000, and Michelle Ouellet $1,300,000 to play in Manitoba last year.

The third thing I am concerned with is Manitoba’s potential lack of scoring. Jason Krog signed with Atlanta, Jason Jaffray with Calgary, and Mark Cullen with Chicago. Sergei Shirokov would be a great replacement, as would Mark Parrish, or Dave Scatchard should they sign two way contracts.

Manitoba looks to be really strong on the D – with the roster players listed above – and the Dmen I have coloured green below.

It’s their depth at forward that I am concerned about.



Not listed on the ‘NUCKS ROSTER or MOOSE ROSTER, but certainly going to Manitoba will be: Tanner Glass LW and Guillaume Desbiens RW.

I’ve kept Cody Hodgson’s name on the Canucks roster – just in case he plays so well that he takes one of Vancouver’s roster spots – and another forward can be made available for the Moose.


by Ron Spence

Mike Gillis had an impressive summer: he signed the Sedins and Roberto; picked up some veterans who have Stanley Cup rings and traded for more defenseman.

I am also impressed with what he’s done for Vancouver’s depth in goal. He let both Curtis Sanford and Jason LaBarbera go. They were replaced by Andrew Raycroft – a goalie with a better NHL history at half of the price.

And Gillis also addressed Vancouver’s thinness further down the depth chart.

Below, is a list of Vancouver’s goalie draft picks over the past decade. Of course, Cory Schneider is great and Cannata is still in college, but the rest of the picks just don’t have it. All you have to do is look at their goals against averages, and where they are playing – in the ECHL or the CHL.


Morgan Clark

morgan clarkAlexandre Vincent

Alexandre VincentJulien Ellis

Julien EllisRob McVicar

Rob McVicar

stats courtesy of

Both Matt Violin and Kevin Swanson have left hockey.

So, what Mike Gillis did was pirate another organization which had goalies coming out of the ying yang.

The Washington Capitals don’t have a Roberto, but they have Jose Theodore and two young Europeans: Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov. Neuvirth was Hershey’s MVP goalie in their run for the Kelly Cup, and Varlamov played very well for the Caps during the NHL post-season (The twenty-year-old was 7-6 and had a .918 save percentage and a 2.53 goals against average – against the Rangers and Pens.).

The Capitals also have Braden Holtby and Dan Dunn in their system.

washtopWashington Prospect


This glut  meant that Daren Machesney wasn’t re-signed, and the Canucks got his name on the dotted line.

“A technically sound goalie with great reflexes and lateral quickness,” wrote Hockey’sFuture about Machesney.

Last pre-season, the pundits had penciled Machesney in to be Washington’s number three man – behind Jose Theodore and Brent Johnson.

“I say Machesney starts the season as the #1 guy in Hershey,” wrote Derek Meluzio of “He will play the majority of the games and will get called up a few times to the NHL during the season when injuries happen. As for the back-up…. I say Varlamov gets the spot and Neuvirth goes to South Carolina.”

What the forecasters didn’t realize was that the two young Euros would quickly come of age, and shove Machesney down the depth chart – and eventually into a Manitoba Moose uniform.

Thus, Vancouver now has one excellent, one very good and two reasonable goalies. This is a significant improvement over last season.


A profile on Daren Machesney will follow tomorrow.

(I will be writing about Lukas Mensator in a few weeks.).